- Company headquartered in Geneva, Switzerland, which means it isn’t compelled to cooperate with international surveillance alliances.
- Strict logging policy and annual transparency reports keeps data untraceable and secure.
- Free version available in addition to competitively priced subscription options.
ProtonMail was created in 2014 to provide an encrypted email service for journalists and activists handling sensitive information. Its counterpart VPN takes that same ethos but applies it to all online activity. While the company’s privacy and data security bona fides are clear, on this page we’re going to look more closely at the company itself, the services they provide, and the pricing options available so you can determine if it’s the right choice for your needs.
A Bit More About ProtonVPN
One of the most compelling aspects of ProtonVPN is how the company is foundationally committed to protecting civil liberties. Recent years have seen a number of more commercially focused VPNs enter the market, and while these companies can offer great products, we have a hard time fully believing that our data is secure and won’t be turned over to advertisers or governments for the right price.
ProtonVPN was engineered by scientists and developers that met at CERN, the Geneva-based European Organization for Nuclear Research, as a way to provide protection for activists and journalists at a time when they felt government overreach was stifling free expression. Their mission is altruistic, and when we’re looking for our data to be protected, that mission provides great peace of mind.
Is There A Free Version?
ProtonVPN’s mission of creating a freer, more equitable Internet extends to their plans as well. We took the service on a full, free test ride since the company offers a risk-free, no-cost version of their VPN that’s subsidized by the subscription rates of their higher-tier plans.
The free version of ProtonVPN doesn’t have the same speed connection of the higher-tier plans or the same bonus features, but it is completely free and not just a limited trial, which was more than enough testing opportunity to give us a real feel for the service before we were ready to commit to one of their subscription plans. Even some of our favorite VPNs don’t offer a free trial. See our NordVPN review, for example, a VPN that includes a money-back guarantee but doesn’t feature a free version.
ProtonVPN’s free version has some of the basic features we’d hope for in a VPN, but realistically it didn’t work for us as a standalone VPN solution. We only got one VPN connection per account, which was fine for a single PC but nothing more. Plus, the server count was limited to just three counties and the speeds were less than half of the premium service. Overall, we appreciate that a free version exists for those looking for a basic VPN but for more serious Internet usage, we’d recommend a more robust plan.
Note: The three server location countries included with the free version are Japan, the United States and The Netherlands.
What Are the Subscription Plans?
Beyond the free version, ProtonVPN offers three subscription tiers: Basic, Plus and Visionary. Each of the plan tiers offers something unique, which we’ll get into in more detail in a moment. First, let’s take a quick overview of the plans and their prices.
|Monthly Plan Cost||$5||$10||$30|
|Annual Plan Cost||$48||$96||$288|
|Annual Plan Cost (per month)||$4||$8||$24|
|Two-Year Plan Cost||$79||$159||$479|
|Two-Year Plan Cost (per month)||$3.29||$6.63||$19.96|
|Number of VPN Connections Included||2||5||10|
As with many online services, the longer you’re willing to commit, the more you stand to save. We really like how easy it was to customize the best plan for our needs, especially after getting a taste of the service through the free version. Once we took ProtonVPN for a test ride, it was much easier to discover the capabilities that we needed from the service and choose the plan that best suited those needs. Let’s take a look at what’s offered with each plan tier to see how they distinguish themselves.
The Basic plan is, well, pretty basic and, in our opinion, not really worth it considering there is a free option that does many of the same things. For about $5 per month (depending on the term length), we got two high-speed VPN connections which we used for our PC and phone, which is good enough for personal use, but not much else.
The plan includes server options in 50 countries, which is a vast improvement on the three servers that the free version includes. With the basic plan, there is also support for P2P file sharing and BitTorrent, which was a nice addition, but for more casual VPN users, we would have preferred unlocked access to international streaming services, which is included in the Plus plan.
Generally speaking, the Basic plan provides a nice bridge between the Free and the Plus options but doesn’t do enough to distinguish itself as a viable VPN option.
For $10, the Plus plan brings in all of the robust features we’ve come to expect from a professional, subscription-based VPN. This plan includes five VPN connections, which is perfect for outfitting a whole household, and access to the 50 server location countries as the Basic plan. The Plus plan offers a major speed upgrade, with 10 Gbps, which is great to accommodate the downloading of larger files or streaming.
What really sets the Plus plan apart are the bonus features, however. Not only is there P2P and BitTorrent support, but the Plus plan also features access to blocked content; we love the ability to explore other countries’ versions of Netflix and other streaming services, and the Plus version gave us that access.
The Plus plan also includes additional security protocols. Their Secure Core VPN service routed our Internet traffic through multiple servers which helped to further shield our activity from anyone who may be looking to monitor it (governments or hackers being chief culprits here). The Plus plan also enabled us to route our traffic through the Tor network which, while we may not personally need to do any deep web browsing, we can see how this would be a great benefit to those working in more sensitive fields of research or activism as it can offer an added layer of protection on web browsing.1
The Plus plan was our clear pick as the standout from ProtonVPN’s offerings. While on the price spectrum, it may be a little higher than some of the other top-tier services, the commitment to privacy and the additional features made us feel protected and free to roam the web without limits or surveillance.
ProtonVPN’s Visionary plan is by far the most expensive and appears primarily geared towards professional applications of the service.
The Visionary plan includes VPN services for 10 devices and offers all of the same features as the Plus plan. The only distinguishing factor for the Visionary plan beyond the number of devices is that it also includes a ProtonMail Visionary account, which offers encrypted messaging. At a time when email surveillance is one of the most insidious forms of government overreach,2 this plan offers security beyond a VPN. The Visionary plan would be a great option for a team of activists or a small newsroom, but it may not be the ideal option for individuals or a household given its price point.
Note: ProtonMail’s Visionary plan is the highest-tier plan, including five users, 10 custom domains, 20 GB of storage, unlimited messaging and more.
Some of Our Favorite Features
Now that we’ve taken a broader overview of what the individual plans had to offer, let’s break down a few of the key features that made ProtonVPN stand out from the pack.
- Safe Data Governance: ProtonVPN didn’t log any of our Internet usage, which helped keep our data safe. Also, because of their Swiss jurisdictional standing, the company can’t be compelled to offer our data over to any government, which is an additional reassurance.
- High Speeds: 10 Gbps is a great speed metric with their Plus plan and more than enough for streaming HD video. Check out our ProtonVPN review for a more in-depth look at their speeds.
- Free Version: While it is a more pared-down version of their service, the fact that ProtonVPN offers a fully free version is a great way to get a no-risk look at what the service has to offer, which helped us decide if an upgrade would be worth the price.
- Data Security and Split Tunneling: ProtonVPN, especially its Plus plan version, impressed us with their Secure Core architecture, which helped shield our activity online. They also provide the ability to split tunnel traffic, which allowed us to route some traffic through our ISP and some through the VPN tunnel.
- Streaming and Torrenting: The ability to access international libraries of Netflix and other streaming services is a fun feature, as is torrenting files without risk of upsetting our ISP.
How to Sign Up With ProtonVPN
As with everything with ProtonVPN, their signup options are geared towards protecting privacy. Signing up for the free version of the service simply required entering our email address and choosing a username and password.
For the paid versions, ProtonVPN offered a number of payment options based on our comfort level providing our personal information. There were the usual suspects like credit or debit cards as well as Paypal, but once we signed up for a free account there were a couple of other unique options to upgrade. We were able to pay for the VPN using Bitcoin and, more surprisingly, cash. That’s right, once we signed up for a free account we could upgrade our service to the paid plans by sending the company cash.
While we probably wouldn’t take them up on the offer seeing as their service is trustworthy with personal account information, adding those untraceable payment methods was another way that ProtonVPN gave us peace of mind.
What If You Don’t Love the Service?
One of the weaker points with ProtonVPN is their customer service, which needs to be mentioned. Unlike other big-name companies that offer 24/7 customer support, ProtonVPN only has an online ticket system. When we submitted questions, they entered a queue and were answered more slowly than with an online live chat or phone support system.
One thing we did like about ProtonVPN is that they offer a 30-day money-back guarantee on their service. Between the free version and a free 30-day trial, there were a number of ways for us to ensure that the service was right for us before making a long-term commitment. Additionally, canceling a long-term plan with the service could qualify for a prorated refund based on the length of the plan and how long we used the service before cancellation. Of course, with relatively slow customer support, the cancellation process is a bit more complicated than some of ProtonVPN’s competitors.
Summing Up ProtonVPN
ProtonVPN is towards the higher end of premium VPN services, though that price can be reduced by taking on a longer contract length. With a 30-day money-back guarantee as well as a free version, however, we felt confident in the service because we were given ample time with it before needing to commit long-term.
ProtonVPN offers an impressive suite of services at impressive speeds, and their commitment to privacy and data governance makes them one of the most trustworthy VPNs on the market. And the truth is, we bought into the company’s mission, from its founding through its stated goals, which makes them a service we’re happy to support even at slightly higher prices than their competitors.
ProtonVPN Frequently Asked Questions
- Is ProtonVPN trustworthy?
Given their strict data logging policy, their Swiss jurisdiction (which puts them outside of international intelligence-sharing agreements), and strong encryption protocols, ProtonVPN is one of the most trustworthy and secure VPNs on the market.
- Is ProtonVPN really free?
Yes, ProtonVPN has a free option that’s more than just a free trial; it’s a more basic, pared-down version of their paid VPN. It is completely free, with no payment information necessary to sign up. ProtonVPN keeps the free version free by subsidizing it from the revenue earned from the paid versions.
- Does ProtonVPN work with Netflix?
Yes, ProtonVPN works with Netflix, but customers are required to sign up for the Plus plan version of the service to access the international libraries of Netflix and other streaming services.
- Does ProtonVPN sell your data?
No, ProtonVPN’s strict no-logging policy and commitment to data security extend to government outreach and advertising alike. You don’t have to worry about ProtonVPN selling your data because they don’t collect it in the first place.
CSO Online. (2020). What is the dark web? How to access it and what you'll find.
The Guardian. (2012). Privacy from state snooping defines a true democracy.